The Poor Sisters of St. Clare plan to tear down their Franciscan Monastery at 920 Centre St., next to the Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, and then sell the vacant land to a developer for construction of 26 townhouses.
The order says it can no longer afford the upkeep on the 1930s cloistered facility and that they are down to just ten nuns living there. And they say tearing down the monastery is part of their religious practice.
In a demolition form filed with the Boston Landmarks Commission , required for the demolition of any Boston building more than 50 years old, the order says that because the monastery was intended as a place for a contemplative, inward life - few people are allowed inside the inner sanctum - that once they are gone from the site, they wish to erase any signs of their presence at the location.
"They believe this to be the destiny of their history at the location," the application states.
Just in case, however, the sisters also warn the landmark commission it better not try to delay or stop the project, because they have the First Amendment on their side.
The Sisters assert that under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (free exercise of religion clause) and Article 2 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights (religious freedom) they have a constitutional right to demolish the property following any 90-day delay period imposed by the Boston Landmarks Commission. Additionally, they assert that their US and Massachusetts Constitutional right supersede the authority of the BLC to prohibit the demolition.
With the money from the sale, the order will build or buy a smaller property nearby for the remaining ten sisters to live in.
The application does not say what will happen to the basement burial crypt that is used as a final resting places for deceased sisters.
Once they raze the entire site, the buildings on which went up in the 1930s, they will sell the land to Holland Properties, which wants to put up 20 units in 10 duplexes and 6 units in two triplexes. Unlike the sisters, Holland has no First Amendment rights and would have to win approval from the BPDA and, depending on the zoning on the land, from the zoning board before they could begin construction.
City assessors value the 2.8-acre site at $9 million, although as a religious institution, the sisters do not have to pay taxes on it.